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London elections: Boris Johnson ‘laser-like focused’ on campaign – Shaun Bailey

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Boris Johnson has a “laser-like focus” on the London mayoral race and has been advising how to rescue the Tory campaign, the party’s candidate Shaun Bailey claimed today.

The Prime Minister is said to have “rallied the troops” behind Mr Bailey and urged support from party donors, as polls indicate Labour’s Sadiq Khan is set to be re-elected by a landslide on May 6.

Mr Bailey, in an interview with the Evening Standard, said the level of support he had received from his party had been “overwhelming”, especially when people phoned to offer support after critical media coverage.

Earlier this month Downing Street refused to back Mr Bailey after he was accused of “politicising” the Sarah Everard case. There have been reports that his campaign is struggling to attract backers.

Today Mr Bailey dismissed the reports as “mischief in the papers” and insisted he could close the gap on Mr Khan.

Mr Bailey, who was selected as the party’s candidate in September 2018, said: “One of the things that has really kept me going – it’ s been two-and-a-half years, and you have seen other candidates [Rory Stewart, Siobhan Benita] fall by the wayside – has actually been the support from the party.

Kippered up: Shaun Bailey and Boris Johnson in Uxbridge last December

/ Shaun Bailey

“Boris Johnson, he was mayor of London, he is laser-like focused on this. The local associations – who were the people who selected me –they have supported me all the way through.

“And the London MPs in particular, they have done so much work to help me raise money, help me deliver leaflets, organise Zoom meetings for me.

“From our side, the support has been big, really big. In fact, it’s kind of been a little bit overwhelming at times. If anything happens in the papers, I will receive a flood of phone calls, saying: ‘You are our guy, Shaun, don’t give in.’”

Focused on victory: Shaun Bailey believes he can close the gap in the mayoral race

/ Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd

Asked what he meant by the Prime Minister’s “laser-like focus”, Mr Bailey said: “He has said to the party: ‘I believe you made the right choice’, because he tried to be neutral in the beginning, and really rally the troops behind me.

“But more importantly than that, he has helped me raise money. He has helped me reach out to MPs. He has made sure that the [party]chairman [Amanda Milling] and I have regular meetings that iron out the logistics of campaigning.

“And he has come alongside me. I have probably met him on four separate occasions. He said: ‘You have been extended [as candidate] by a year, I couldn’t avoid it, Shaun, but here is what I would do if I were you. Call on me if you need something.’

“Being able to go back to the rest of the party and say I have a strong link with Number 10 and the PM and is very useful. He just believes in London.”

Asked if Mr Johnson would join him on the campaign trail prior to polling day, Mr Bailey said: “One hundred per cent. He has already been out with me four times, but covid has limited that. We have done Zoom things together, so technically six times.

“Absolutely, he will come out, for two reasons. One, we are pals and he wants to come out with me. Two, he likes campaigning. So you will definitely see him out with me.”

Sadiq Khan plants a tree at the pandemic memorial garden in the Olympic park

/ PA Wire

Mr Bailey said he was behind in the polls because of an “incumbent mayor who has spent millions of our money on his own PR”.

His campaign, headed by Ben Mallet, a friend of Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, has been refocused on offering voters a “fresh start”.

The first televised hustings, in which Mr Bailey and Mr Khan will go head-to-head, will be on BBC London at 630pm tonight.

Mr Bailey, who has been volunteering at Kingsbury’s Shree Swaminarayan Mandir temple covid vaccination centre and is training as a vaccinator, said: “I think we can make that jump… now that we are coming into the election period, people are going to see a closing in the polls.

“I’m no further behind than Boris Johnson was at this point. I’m closer than Zac [Goldsmith] was at this point.”

In his interview, Mr Bailey also pledged to reduce the size of council tax bills if elected mayor.

He said he would “wind back” the 9.5 per cent increase being imposed by Mr Khan in his share of bills from next month, and follow this with further cuts over the four-year term of office.

The City Hall “precept” is increasing by £31.59 a year for band D households, taking the Mayor’s share of average bills to £363.66 – up 31per cent since he was elected in 2016.

Mr Bailey said: “Council tax punishes the poorest people the most. We have ways in London of covering these bills if we are inventive [at City Hall].”

Mr Khan’s share of Band D bills has increased by £87.66 since he became Mayor.

When Boris Johnson was mayor, he froze his share of council tax between 2008 and 12 and followed this with four years of successive reductions. The City Hall precept was £276 when he left office in 2016.

Mr Khan said this deprived the Met police of resources. Mr Bailey said: “I think our money is best spent by us.”

Mr Bailey also revealed plans for a “Festival of London” to encourage visitors back to the West End after lockdown.

He said that increased footfall was vital to rebuilding the capital’s economy after the damage caused by the pandemic.

He suggested month-long art, music and theatre festivals –with visitors receiving reduced-cost travel as part of their entrance ticket, akin to the London Olympics in 2012.

Mr Bailey, who revealed he was a huge fan of murals, said: “We need to give people a reason to be in London. I will run a Festival of London. I will have a festival of art.

“In the Olympics, if people had a ticket to an Olympic event, we would then give them low-cost travel in London, so they would move around. We will do that.

“We have a month of theatre, a month of live bands in the parks, encourage the Royal Parks and the public parks to open up. I want to have an annual mural competition, and the winners get to paint the mural.”

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